frei und kostenlos

Suddenly it bothered me that gratis and libre take the same word, “free”, in English.  Here is what I gathered from the Online Etymology Dictionary and Word-Origins.  Its root is the Proto-Indo-European “prijos”, meaning dear, beloved, or friend.  (The modern noun-verb “friend” shares the same origin.)  “Prijos” was used in reference to one’s own family or clan — to the exclusion of slaves and servants, thus equating “not free” with “in bondage”, and “free” with “liberated”.  Then, in the 1580s (without warning) “free” annexed the notion of “without cost”, and never looked back.  The major economic event of the 1500s was the rise of mercantilism & gold-hoarding, so could commodity money be connected with this usage of “free”?  I would like to think so (for reasons of closure) but the world has a long and storied relationship with rare metal money (“and so Judas betrayed him for thirty shekels of silver”).

Is English alone in its obstinate conflation of frei and kostenlos?  How will we manage to bifurcate this union of sparring souls?  What brand of Anglophone madness could have caused this tragedy of language?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s